' 'Bye.' She hung up and realized there was a thin sheen of perspiration under her hairline. She got all hot and flustered talking to Greg. He was so beautiful, like a movie star, with all that unruly hair and those eyes like two little blue pools. He belonged in Hollywood. Greg always reminded her of the one on that soap she used to watch. What was his name — the one with the unruly, curly hair? Except Greg was a whole lot better-looking.

She wished she could talk to her dad about him, but when she tried, he got furious with her. And Greg was so great. He was gentle. Soft-spoken. A well-educated boy from a nice home. Everything you could ask for.

She was not pretty in the conventional sense but was the sort of girl who would grow into a woman that other women would describe with envy. Eyes were just a bit too far apart. Nose not quite delicately enough shaped, chin just a bit too square to be pretty ever, but an interesting-looking girl with the beginnings of a great body. She wore her hair in a kind of sleek, feathery cap that she spent hours and hours working on to get it just so — and once someone had told her that her hair and eyes made her look like a cat.

She liked cats and had since she was a little girl. In fact, she had copied her current hairstyle out of a magazine because she had misread the caption under the picture. She'd thought it said 'Layered Cat' style, when it had been 'Layered Cap,' and she'd copied it and then later read it correctly, liking it better when it had said cat. She did have a little of the feline look about her, and she knew it and saw it as a strength, rightfully enough, and played to it a little. This kitten was a pretty good cat. A nice kid. And she was going through a very tough time.

She still couldn't believe her mother had actually run off with that . . . that thing . . . and left them. She'd refused to talk to her on the phone each time she'd called the house to talk to Tiff. She despised her mom for what she'd done to them. Especially to Dad. He was ruined by her leaving them like that. She wanted to help somehow, to come to his rescue. It had brought out all of her latent maternal instincts and she'd tried to comfort him, to do things around the house to help him and she couldn't reach him. It's like he was in shock.

'Dad?' she said, sticking her head in the door of his study. 'I'm going over to Amber's. I'll be home early. Okay?' He looked up with heavily lidded eyes and nodded yes, and she took off.

She remembered back about a couple of years or so ago, one day her mother had been brushing her hair and they'd started talking about that time of the month, and her mom was talking about why you bleed when you become sexually mature, and she'd said, just kidding around with her mother, 'I don't see why we were made like that down there. Why would God want you to bleed every month?'

And her mom had been real serious and she goes, 'God made us different from man so we could procreate, and make love, and have babies. And someday you'll be with your husband and you will conceive a baby together, and then in nine months your little newborn child will come out down there.'

And Tiff had gone, 'Down here? Oh, sorry. No way.'

And her mother had been so amused by that. She'd laughed real hard. She thought that was really funny.

Back inside the study, the one called Spain felt the fog lift from his thoughts for a fraction of a second and he absentmindedly realized that his daughter had just stuck her head in the door and spoken to him, and he had looked up from his preoccupied stupor and seen her oval face in the doorway, framed there like a madonna, and the sunlight through the blinds had just for that instant settled around her head like a golden halo.

She knew she was going to let Greg go all the way with her the day they were washing the Trans-Am and Roger left them alone to go riding with some girl who had honked at him as she cruised by. Roger's folks were gone, as always, and she almost went for it right then but she had enough sense to hold him off until she could get The Pill. They'd been fooling around while they were soaping off the car and she was in real short cutoffs and a little T-shirt knotted in front and bare over her midriff, leaning way out over the hood with the shorts hiked way up on her butt and Greg came up behind her,

'AHHH!' She jumped when he pushed into the back of her. 'You rat, you're getting me wet.'

'Is that right,' he said, letting her savor the double entendre as he reached around and cupped her breasts.

'I'm soaking.'

'I'd like to soak you good, you know.' He was pressed into her and she could feel him hard and insistent,

'OOOOHHHHH, shit?' She nipped the hose back and squirted him with it and they wrestled around, drenching each other in soapy water as they slid over the car's slick surface.

'I'll get you for that.' He was nuzzling her gently now and she stopped struggling a little and enjoyed his embrace, and they laughed.

'You're a maniac,' she said.

'Yeah, Absolutely,' he whispered behind her, his lips in her hair.

'That feels good,' she said.

'That does?' He was making little circles with his fingertips, little feathery circles, barely brushing his fingers up against the wet shirt.

'I like the look of your ass like that,' he told her, his hand moving down and cupping her right cheek.

'Wet, you mean.'


'If you're trying to poke a hole through me, you're doing a pretty good jo —' She was turning and his lips shut hers with a soft, velvety kiss.

'Who do you love?'


'What?' He let her answer.

'You know who.'

'Say it.' He kissed her and pulled her close again.


'Yes?' Kissing her so gently.




'You taste good.'

'Let's go inside.'

'We'll get everything wet.'

'Not if we leave our clothes in the kitchen.'

'That's an idea.'

They went in, shedding wet shirts and shorts and kissing some more, and with their arms around each other they tumbled onto the sofa in the Nunnalys' living room, still moist. And he began his usual ritual that was the next step whenever he got Tiff to undress with him.

'I do love you so, you know that?' Had she been older or wiser, with some mileage, she might have seen through the practiced, toothy artifice as the bogus, manipulative con that it was. But she was fourteen and experienced not at all. And when he opened his mouth and those full, seductive lips of his smiled at her, she could feel her heart miss a beat and her breath caught as she was dazzled by the white smile and perfect mouth — blinded by the light, you could say.

'I love you too, Greg,' she said as they kissed. She saw what she wanted to see when she gazed deeply into those pretty-boy Hollywood blues, and she would sort of let herself go and feel her insides falling into the depth of them, splashing down into those sexy, delicious pools.

'Do you really love me?' he'd ask.

So desperately did Tiff love the idea, so total was her commitment to the concept of romance in general, hers in particular, that she began to give herself to him in direct proportion to her desire to be loved in return. And that is a dangerous mistake when you're dealing with a slick little stud like Greg Dawkins. An only child who'd been spoiled rotten, fussed over and pampered, made to feel he was better than everyone else, given too many compliments and too much spending money, and too few rules. A kid with good looks and too much time on his hands and a wide and nasty mean streak.

'Come on, doll. Don't,' he'd say as she closed her legs, trapping his creeping fingers in the spreading warmth of her inner thighs, 'don't stop me, please. I gotta have you.' And the fingers would start moving again, insistently,

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